Some of the greatest joys in life are those that are unexpected. We had never planned on taking in teens; we had always felt that it was best to only foster those younger than our oldest son; we went into fostering to foster babies and young children. I will never forget the day we received a call about a 13yr old boy who really needed a family and a home. “Hi Leslie, how are you?” the worker said. I knew what was to follow, a request to consider a placement for a child. With excitement I pictured the baby or toddler who would soon be coming to live with us. The worker continued speaking, “I know you normally don’t take teenagers, but we don’t have anywhere else right now that I can place a teen boy. You are my last call if you can’t take him I guess he will need to go to the group home.” I talked to my husband and many of the same concerns that people list for not fostering teens ran through my head. And if I am perfectly honest, probably even the one I hear most often: “aren’t you concerned how taking an older child will affect your kids?”
Flashforward, watching C up on stage singing his heart out at Church, watching him interact with his younger siblings who absolutely adore him, him volunteering his entire summers to help reach out to other young people at camp, watching him reach out to the homeless, and hearing his teacher before retiring comment, that in all of her many years of teaching, she has never seen any student change so much, makes me extremely happy that we didn’t let those fears and doubts prevent us from fostering C.
I don’t want to come across like having C move in with us was picture perfect. We had our fair share of trials and errors, ups and downs, even a period of time where C did not live with us. We did not do it all on our own either, many people wrapped around C with love, support and guidance, helping him become the amazing young men he is today. My kids have learned so much since C came to live with us; he has an amazing testimony, and is an inspiration to so many. He has become the big brother the other kids look up to. My kids will tell you that though they learned that sometimes people don’t always make the right choices in life, with a little compassion, love, patience, and understanding you can make a world of difference in a person’s life. Even though sometimes you can make bad choices, you can always change your life around. They say that they have learned to love even when the person is acting in every way like they don’t want to be loved -- that often those are the ones who need compassion, love, patience, and understanding most. Most important to them was seeing firsthand the difference love, family and God make and that trust can be lost but with time it can always be earned back.
Kids will often not listen to their parents, but a brother who they have come to love and respect they will often listen to. C has become the young man who I am so glad his siblings have in their lives to look up to. And I am so thankful every day for that unexpected call that changed our lives for the better. We hope to one day make official what we have felt for a very long time; C is not just our foster son but our son.
It was a hard decision C had to make and one that no child should have to make -- the choice between becoming an official part of a family and losing his College Bursaries or not being adopted and keeping his College bursaries. In the end C chose to not be adopted and to keep his bursaries and extended care agreement. Some may say, “why does it matter, it is just a piece of paper?”, but to a youth in care who has had many moves, it can mean everything. The fear of what if I do something wrong, will they no longer want me as part of the family? Will they send me away because they don’t have to keep me? Or when I go to College will I still have a family to come home to? Though we know we are always here for C and will always be his family, it is not just a paper to us either. If something serious were to happen to him legally we could be limited in our ability to help him. People also often think that a person is not a family’s child due to not being biologically related or adopted. For now we wait until C is done College for something we wish we could do sooner: make him an official part of our family.
If asked for my recommendations for improvement in the adoption process, I would want to ensure no child has to make the decision between having a forever family and a post secondary education.
Children in care have experienced trauma through no fault of their own and deserve, as all children do, permanency for a lifetime, beyond the age of 18. Ontario can do better in ensuring a #Home4EveryKid by providing #Support4EveryFamily throughout the parenting journey and giving every opportunity for their child(ren). The benefits are immeasurable to a child and in the long term best for society.